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  » Medical News Archive  »  Hot Flashes: Open a Window or I'll Scream
6 ways to cope with menopausal hot flashes - without hormones.


Beating a Hot Flash: What Can Help Right Now

1. Watch what you're wearing.

It's not just the heavy sweaters and suit jackets that can make you feel warm. Even loose, comfortable clothes can cause a problem if they are made from certain fabrics. Those to avoid include nylon, spandex, and some close-knit polyesters, all of which can hold in body heat and make it harder for you to cool down. To avoid night sweats, which are really hot flashes that occur in your sleep, skip nylon nighties or PJs, and avoid satin or all polyester sheets.

2. Exercise as much as you can.

While it seems that all that jumping around would actually cause you to overheat, the North American Menopause Society says women who exercise regularly during menopause may get fewer hot flashes, and the duration of the flashes they do get may be shorter.

3. Use cool water to cool down

It seems so obvious we almost overlook it, but cool water or cold compresses placed on certain key areas of the body can stop a flash almost instantly, or keep the one that's already happened from coming back for a second heat wave.

The places to anoint with ice cubes, a cold cloth, or even an icy cold soda can include the inside of the wrists, the inside of the elbows, the back of the neck, or, if you're in private, the pulse points on either side of your groin. Gel-filled cloth "scarves" that you soak in icy cold water for several minutes and place around the back of your neck can also help. They don't drip, and they hold the cold for up to one hour.

Other ideas: Keep your environment cool. In one study at Columbia University in New York City , women in cool rooms had fewer hot flashes overall compared to those in warm rooms. So turn up the AC or turn on the fan when you feel a flush coming on.

What you should avoid: Hot showers, whirlpool tubs, and Jacuzzis -- all can stimulate a hot flash by raising body temperature.

4. Take a deep breath -- and relax.

If you're plagued with frequent flashes, check your breathing patterns. As silly as this might sound, when we're excited we can hyperventilate, which simply means we take in more oxygen than we need. For many people the end result is a feeling of spreading warmth. This, in turn, may kick off a true hot flash, or keep the ones you have going longer.

According to the North American Menopause Society, paced breathing may be the most effective relaxation method studied. In three clinical trials NAMS reports that women who practiced paced breathing had 50% fewer hot flashes.

5. Stop and smell the roses.

No, really smell them! Studies show that while certain scents can exacerbate a hot flash, such as some chemical smells or even certain perfumes, other scents can calm your body and help keep flashes at bay.

The scents that normally bring on a sensation of relaxation include not only roses, but lavender, vanilla, and lemongrass, plus essential oils like ylang-ylang, geranium, and clary sage.

6. Stop smoking.

Good evidence shows that smoking can worsen hot flashes, particularly in thin women. For example, studies published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2003 found that smoking triggers hormonal and other changes that result in earlier, more intense, and more frequent hot flashes. Cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke each day may help reduce your number of hot flashes or their intensity. Quitting altogether is better still.

3 Treatments Your Doctor Can Prescribe

1. Antidepressants (Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, and so on)

In doses much smaller than those used to treat depression, these drugs can ease some menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes. For example, one study published in the journal Clinical Oncology in 1998 found that 58% of women who took small doses of Effexor daily had a greater than 50% reduction in hot flashes in just a few weeks.

2. Bio-identical hormones.

Although they're created in a laboratory much like traditional HRT, bio-identical hormones are identical to what your body produces naturally. Thus, some experts say they may be safer than traditional HRT, and many women report they can help hot flashes and other symptoms, including mood swings and sexual dysfunction.

However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists frequently points out that bio-identical hormones have not been tested for safety or efficacy, so it's important to weigh the pros and cons just as you would when considering traditional HRT.

3. Clonidine (a blood pressure medication)

A study published in 1982 in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that when used in small doses, this traditional blood pressure medication might help relieve hot flashes. How? By relaxing blood vessels, which in turn may have some effect on the localized release of body heat, helping to control hot flashes in a matter of weeks.

Though the drug has some side effects, including dry mouth and sleep disturbances, research shows it can decrease hot flashes by up to 46% with no significant health risks.